NEW Rangers signing Remi Streete last night insisted that he and his four Newcastle United team-mates – Haris Vuckic, Gael Bigirimana, Shane Ferguson and Kevin Mbabu – were not forced to relocate to Ibrox.
The 20-year-old defender, one of five players loaned by Newcastle owner Mike Ashley – who has a ten per cent shareholding at Rangers – in a deal practically designed to ruffle feathers at the Scottish Football Association, claims that they were not put under pressure to join the financially challenged Championship side.
Indeed, it can be seen why the quintet were happy to be shipped out of St James’ Park on transfer deadline day.
Streete and Swiss centre-back Mbabu have never played a first-team match for their parent club, while wing-back Ferguson last featured in 2012 and Bigirimana has been a peripheral figure since August, 2013.
Vuckic has at least made three appearances this season, albeit only as a substitute, suggesting that Newcastle would have been as happy to have offloaded the players as Rangers were grateful to receive them.
Quite how much, if anything, interim manager Kenny McDowall knew about the new intake remains to be seen but Streete, already speaking of extending his stay in Scotland beyond the end of this season, stressed that guns had not been put to heads.
“No, it wasn’t like we didn’t have a choice,” he said. “It was up to us and we saw the history of the club and how passionate the fans are.
“It’s similar to Newcastle and we thought this is the right step for our careers. With the situation the club is in, we know where it should be and our goal is to help the team get back to that.”
Asked if they had met McDowall, Streete replied: “We spoke early on. I think everyone at this club has got quality and different players bring different things to the team.
“We’ve got to show on the training pitch what we can bring to the team and, hopefully, he likes what he sees.
“From what I’ve heard in the press and on Twitter, the team needs some more fresh legs and we are here to give the players already here a boost.
“It might bring out the best in the players to have to fight for their positions and it might bring out the best in us to try to take a position off someone else.
“That’s what football is all about. You want to play every week and get three points so everyone in the squad here will be trying to get in the starting team.”
That Rangers were in dire need of an injection of new talent is as undeniable as the fact they could not afford it, which has led former Hibernian captain and assistant manager Jackie McNamara snr to call for the SFA to cancel the registration of the loan signings.
“What it comes down to is the concept of sporting integrity,” he said. “Rangers have been forced to borrow money from Ashley just to keep the lights on.
“If it hadn’t been for those loans they wouldn’t have been able to pay the players who were already on the wage bill.
“Now they’re bringing in five more from a Premier League club in England. Normally, in these situations, Rangers would need to pay a percentage of their salaries.
“These players will all be on Premier League money so how are Rangers going to fund that when they can’t afford to put their undersoil heating on for a game that’s live on TV?
“It still won’t help them win the title because they’re too far behind Hearts for that. But the likes of Hibs, Queen of the South and Falkirk are also fighting to go up through the play-offs.
“What do the fans of those clubs think about this? Or the supporters of St Mirren, Ross County or Motherwell, who might also have to face them in a play-off final?” Bigirimana believes that their arrival can help the new club overturn a 16-point deficit and pip Championship leaders Hearts to pole position and automatic promotion.
The 21-year-old has known true adversity in his life and, consequently, tends to regard footballing problems as a pleasant diversion rather than a source of grief.
He was born in the war-torn Republic of Burundi, one of the five poorest nations in the world, before fleeing with his parents to Uganda and, eventually, at the age of 11, to the UK.
Swiftly rising through the ranks with local club Coventry City, Bigirimana signed for Newcastle for £1m while still only 18.
“I look at my life as a miracle,” he said. “Everything I go through, I am learning. It is a journey for me as a footballer and I love challenges.
“When I left Coventry, people told me not to go to Newcastle and said it was too early for me. But I went there and in the first year I played in the Premiership and made my dream come true.
“In the last two years, I haven’t been involved and it has been tough but it has made me learn. This is a reward for my patience so I can’t wait.”
He is also optimistic that Robbie Neilson’s pacesetters can be overtaken on the final bend of this campaign.
“People might say we don’t know what we have let ourselves in for but you have got to have a target,” he said.
“You can’t live your life in fear, thinking: ‘I don’t think it can happen’. Anything can happen. Yes, we are 16 points behind Hearts but we have two games in hand. You never know in football.
“We have still got games to play [against Hearts] so anything can happen. We didn’t come here to give people a fantasy about how it is going to be easy.
“It is going to be tough but promotion is our target coming here.”
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